The article below ran in the VRMA Review ten years after the organization's founding, and was written by VRMA founder John Kjellman, president of Victorex.
America is a nation of joiners. Despite diversity, conflict, and sometimes fierce competition, we come together in myriad ways to solve our common problems and to seize our common opportunities.
One result is thousands of business, professional and other associations, some of which are quite old. The National Association of Realtors was founded in 1908, for instance.
In this light, it's odd that it wasn't until the Spring of 1985 that the seeds of VRMA were sown. Whatever the reason for VRMA's late start, it's not because the business of vacation rentals is new. One of the joys of my youth was vacationing in rented cabins on the lakes of northern Vermont, including Lake Champlain. The vacation rental "industry" must be well over 100 years old.
In ten years, VRMA has grown from a small, informal group to a national organization comprised of over two hundred businesses, with further growth expected. The need for an organization to represent the interests of vacation renal managers (VRMs) nation-wide has been proved by this record of growth.
Now, VRMA faces questions about the direction it should take in the future. The purpose of this article is to review its beginning.
One of the advantages of being in the computer business is that software developers get to learn a lot about how other businesses work. One of the early lessons of the computer revolution was that it isn't enough to understand computers to sell and support them, you have to understand your customers' businesses.
Original article published in the VRMA Review ten years after VRMA's founding
Mickey Holzman of Holzman and Daw (Pajaro Dunes, Monterey Bay, California) gave me my first lessons on how vacation rental businesses work, when he asked me in 1978 to develop software for his business. The result was a computer program that was later installed in the offices of other VRMs.
It was during the process of working with my early VRM customers that I kept hearing a common question, "How does 'so-and-so' do this?" where "so-and-so" would be another of my VRM customers, and "this" would be some problem or challenge common to most if not all VRMs.
Soon, a couple of points struck home. First, I realized that there were thousands of associations, but none for VRMs. A few existed in related fields, real estate for example, but they didn't pay any attention to VRMs.
Second, and a point to be emphasized when planning the future of VRMA, is that vacation rentals are not well recognized by the public. I was amazed when I found that none of the VRMs I met knew VRMs at other resorts. VRMs only know their down-the-street competitors, and cooperating with competitors was out of the question at that time.
It was in this context that I got a resounding "Yes" when I asked my customers and a few other VRMs I knew if they would like to participate in an "industry" meeting. The result was a gathering in the living room of one of Bill and Doll Jelavich's rental homes at Monterey Dunes Colony (California), in March 1985.
About eight people representing five VRM businesses attended the two-day meeting.
I'm pleased and proud to be referred to as the "father" of VRMA, but there's little one person can accomplish alone in this world. There would have been no VRMA, at least not then, had it not been for the foresight and commitment of those who attended the Monterey meeting. What was it that made that first meeting successful? There were several things, some of which are as important today as they were then.
First, the March 1985 meeting would not have occurred if Bill Jelavich had not so strongly supported my idea for a meeting. It's unfortunate that poor health has kept him and his wife from attending more recent meetings. As an aside, it's worth noting that Bill has been fighting single-handedly an on-going, multi-year battle with Monterey County to preserve the right to do vacation rentals at Monterey Dunes Colony.
Second, all the participants of the first meeting bared their souls. I had attended many meetings with other computer professionals, where people seemed worried that somebody was going to steal their best ideas or their best customers. It was refreshing to see these eight strangers sharing information as though they were talking with long-lost friends. It helped that none were competitors; that each business represented was located in a different resort area.
I still remember meeting attendees listening in awe as Mickey Holzman described how he made an effort to make a profit on every element of his business. He stressed that VRMs shouldn't give away services to owners just because an owner contracted for the management of his or her vacation home or condominium. This was a new idea to some, but it is widely accepted as a good one by most VRMs today. Mickey was one of the first VRMA board members, and completed a term as president in 1994.
Third, although the March 1985 meeting has sometimes been characterized as a computer users' meeting, it was my intention, supported by a written agenda, that most of the meeting focus on industry issues, not on computer system issues. My desire was to help make my customers more successful, to grow the "industry." I believed that whatever was good for my customers would be good for my company.
Two other VRMs deserve recognition for their participation at the Monterey meeting. Bill Futrell of Ridgepine (Sunriver, Oregon) became the first president of VRMA when it was officially founded the next year, and he was a leader in the effort to more effectively market the industry. He was a proponent of a practice long established in the hospitality industry, but foreign then to many VRMs, of raising rates in peak periods and discounting and promoting shoulder season bookings.
Bill also took the concept of cooperation for the good of the industry back to Sunriver, where he helped found the Sunriver Vacation Rentals Managers Association. It has been very successful in bringing local competitors together to work on local problems and opportunities, to the benefit of all its members.
Jim and Melinda Morris of Lake Tahoe Accommodations have the distinction of being the only people who have attended every national VRMA meeting since the beginning. Both Jim and Melinda worked to push the idea of establishing standards for the industry, from a code of ethics to rating systems so that renters would know what to expect when they checked into a vacation rental house or condominium for the first time. The Morrises hosted the second meeting, in Fall 1985, at Lake Tahoe, California. Jim was an early board member.
Susan Lowry, nee Powers, deserves recognition for being the first to take the idea of VRMA east. She was working at Sun Realty, Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina at the time, and braved Central Oregon's unpredictable late-winter weather to attend the third meeting in Sunriver, hosted by Ridgepine (the weather turned out to be OK).
It was Susan's enthusiasm and salesmanship that resulted in several attendees from the East Coast at the Fall 1986 meeting in Indian Wells, California. It was here that VRMA formally established as the Association of Vacation Home Rental Managers. The selection of the name turned out to be a long and arduous process, which continued off and on for several more years, until the current name was adopted.
Kjellman published an industry newsletter, The Vacation Rental Advisor, during VRMA's early days.
My most rewarding moments during the early meetings occurred when I heard attendees report that they tried a new idea picked up at a prior meeting, and that "it worked."
It was good to hear Melinda Morris voice the realization that VRMs provide useful and valuable services, and that they should not be ashamed to expect to be paid well for their efforts.
One VRM, who had previously said that her owners would never tolerate a raise in her commission rate, reported six months later she had raised her rates five percent and only one owner called her, and that owner simply asked for the reason for the raise.
East and west coast VRMs challenged each other about the differences in the way they ran their businesses. Clearly, some differences are appropriate, but I won't forget Bill Futrell's laugh when an eastern VRM told Bill her or she couldn't promote shoulder season bookings of less than a week, "because we've always required minimum stays of seven days." If VRMA has helped all its members question the way they do business, it has accomplished one of my initial goals.
There you have the roots to VRMA. Many others have contributed much since those early days. The challenge to the current membership and leadership is to look forward, while building on the past. The vacation rental industry faces many opportunities and challenges. With vision and commitment it can accomplish the second of my two original goals, that of effectively promoting and defending vacation rentals as an industry.
For more information about VRMA's 30th Anniversary, visit http://www.vrma.com/history